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By Mary Chang
on Monday, 20th October 2014 at 2:00 pm
If you were to run into Tom Vek in an everyday situation – say you’re in Gregg’s buying a sausage roll and he’s behind you in the queue – you would have no idea a bloke like him would be a cult electronic hero. With his black, thick-rimmed glasses and massive head (hey, big heads = big brains, I can attest to this, I have a big head too), he looks more like a boffin who should be in a lab coat, working out the cure for cancer.
But no, thankfully this anorak has focussed his energies and synapses towards music. In certain circles, Vek is a big deal, and understandably so: he’s a producer as well as being an adept musician, showing off his prowess Sunday night in Liverpool. Although he will be showcasing at CMJ in New York this month, Vek is just not massive enough stateside for anyone, much less himself, to take the financial risk of him touring there, so I’d never seen him until the night.
Opening at the Kazimier were Leeds four-piece Fun Adults. They’ll remind you a lot of Wild Beasts; like the Kendal band and Vek, they take full advantage of both traditional rock band and electronic elements. However, I mention Wild Beasts because this band has two vocalists that take turns with the spotlight and both favour a falsetto, admittedly not my favourite.
The real question we’re left with is, does the world really need another Wild Beasts? To their credit, Fun Adults can be much more dancier and funkier than the Kendalites, which is always a plus in my book, and they also showed their versatility in track ‘Eavesdropper’. Starting the song quietly as the singer gently strummed his acoustic guitar, what a shock it was as the number built into a monster, the funky drummed rhythm propelling the song towards its climax.
Vek had taken a 6-year hiatus between the critically acclaimed debut from 2005, ‘We Have Sound’, and 2011’s ‘Leisure Seizure’, so waiting another 3 years for ‘Luck’ to appear wasn’t a huge surprise. However, you could tell easily that many of the punters in attendance at the lovely Kazimier, a Sound City venue near and dear to us TGTFers, were fans from way back, cheering and whooping at the mere mention of “..in a black 1989 Mercedes Benz…” of ‘Nothing but Green Lights’. One of them Liverpudlians even went so far as humming – loudly and emphatically – the too familiar opening notes of ‘’, with Vek smiling, insisting, “but that’s not one of mine. I think you’re at the wrong gig!”, all before his sequencer / guitarist Sam (who Vek referred to as 5 AM) repeated the same notes with buttons of his sequencer pressed in quick and impressive succession.
A lot of people who aren’t into electronic music, and who are sceptical of the genre like my own mother, think these kinds of artists aren’t real musicians, that everything they do is computer generated and there is no real artistry to their sound. So I was actually quite pleasantly surprised to see Vek showing off his guitar and bass playing abilities, proving to anyone who needed evidence that unlike the manufactured pop stars of today, he is an artist not borne of a well-stocked studio but of true musicianship along with quite good production chops!
Where to begin? Vek played for over an hour and a half with minimal stoppage time between songs. It was, in short, an electro head’s dream. I thought several times during the set I might need to pinch myself to confirm this show was actually happening before my very eyes, on the same stage I’d seen Glass Animals and We Have Band unleash their own selections of synths on a Sound City audience this past May. One can see why Vek’s voice divides opinion: its nasal, atonal qualities make it sound nearly robotic, but if you consider it in the grand scheme of his music, it completely works as another one of his instruments, a disaffected, unemotional player while the instrumentation serves to bring the funk.
As he’s got several albums to his name, Vek had an incredible back catalogue to draw from, while also bringing to the fore several of the tracks from ‘Luck’. One of the most successful of these were ‘Pushing Your Luck’, which benefitted from a surprise mix into Salt ‘n’ Pepa’s ‘Push It’. Imagine it being sung in Vek’s voice! After it was played and Vek was sure about its warm reception, he quipped, “everyone needs a little Salt ‘n’ Pepa in their life every once in a while”. Indeed, Mr Vek. ‘Aroused’, from ‘Leisure Seizure’, with its massive trilled beats, reverberated off the walls of the Kazimier. If a man who looks as geeky as Vek can pull off a song about sex and get a whole crowd in Liverpool all worked up, it gives us all hope, doesn’t it?
His set ended with recent single ‘Sherman (Animals in the Jungle)’, the entire crowd moving and grooving to every beat, proving even 3 years out from ‘Leisure Seizure’, he’s still got it. Like so many indie acts I love, I wish for Vek to do massively well commercially around the world. At the same time though, watching him at the Kazimier last night play to a very decently-sized crowd, all of whom clearly loved and enjoyed his music, made you feel like you were part of something very intimate and special and I wouldn’t have traded anything in the world for the experience.
After the cut: Tom Vek’s set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Tom Vek with Fun Adults at Liverpool Kazimier – 12th October 2014
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 10th October 2014 at 4:00 pm
French Web site La Blogotheque does atmospheric on location filming very, very well. Take for example their most recently revealed video featuring Sivu, who will be releasing his debut album ‘Something on High’ on Monday on Atlantic Records. The album’s stunning, I can assure you; I reviewed it earlier this week.
This live video takes us to Cap Blanc Nez, a cape in Northern France with stunning cliffs ala the White Cliffs of Dover, and Sivu’s accompanied by a brass band. While Sivu will be playing London Oslo Hackney next Tuesday, the 14th of October, as well as continuing as the primary support for Nick Mulvey on his UK tour which lands tonight in Falmouth, you’re unlikely to see a performance of ‘Better Man Than He’ like this at those shows. Watch the video with a gorgeous French sunset in the background below.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 9th October 2014 at 4:00 pm
Carrie and I were just talking last week about us catching CYMBALS perform live at SXSW 2014 at Cheer Up Charlie’s, where I almost missed them by accident. The English band were over here in the States over the summer for a short string of live dates. Naturally, when they were in Seattle, they recorded a live set for radio station KEXP, as you do. In the video below are ‘Erosion’ ‘You Are’, ‘Winter ’98’, ‘The Natural World’ and ‘Like an Animal’, now committed to film for posterity. Enjoy.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 7th October 2014 at 2:00 pm
American bands We Are Scientists and Surfer Blood are currently in the midst of their current Spatter Analysis tour and last Friday night, they stopped into Washington, only the second date of 10 on their East Coast and Midwest journey. It was truly a Yank fest, as the opening band were Roanoke’s Eternal Summers, who I’d caught as support for Maximo Park back in May (review here). The Virginia-based band shares labels with Surfer Blood (their third album ‘The Drop Beneath’ was released on Brooklyn indie Kanine back in March), so there’s yet another connection linking the bands on this bill.
I hesitate to say that Eternal Summers have a completely laid back vibe, as drummer Daniel Cundiff was really beating the hell out of his skins for several of their songs. But like Surfer Blood’s music, there seems to be this underlying slacker feeling like you should be laying out on a beach somewhere listening to their songs but counterintuitively, both bands are technically proficient. At times, guitarist Nicole Yun’s voice seemed to be fighting with the loudness of her bandmates’ instruments, but that could be more to blame with the venue than the band themselves. From their current album, check out energetic numbers ‘Never Enough’ and ‘A Burial’.
It’s been some time since I’d last seen Surfer Blood live, having last laid ears on them when they coheadlined a show at the 9:30 Club with then indie behemoths The Drums. Times have changed for J.P. Pitts and co. – for one, Warner Brothers dropped them earlier this year, but they’re probably best back with Kanine – but their style that have made them firm favourites with their fans is still intact. I admit that theirs, along with Best Coast and other bands of their ilk, is really not my kind of music; as there is no immediacy, no urgency, it’s in direct odds with my personality.
Nevertheless, I can understand their mainstream (for indie) popularity, with the well-picked guitars and feel good ambience of ‘Floating Vibes’ and ‘Swim’ (aka the “swim to reach the end!” song) from 2010’s ‘Astro Coast’ showing they’ve aged well and can still bring the house down. Frontman J.P., who has no rock star air about him at all, still has a sweet voice and looks like a frat boy in a buttoned-up shirt and boat shoes, but I think those things are all part of the appeal. He announced they were about to play “my favourite Surfer Blood song, ever”, and then leaped into the crowd to sing ‘Drinking Problem’. Forget that we could have jumped rope with his mike lead. Several excited fans had their year made with the chance to sing with one of their idols.
I’ve been a fan of and been going to see We Are Scientists long before I even started blogging. As the band is based in New York, I’ve been lucky to see them live so many times, and by this time I’ve stopped counting. As I was walking to the venue, that admittedly annoying Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen song “it’s always a ‘Good Time’ was stuck in my head. Lately, I’ve had my suspicions that U Hall packs more people than should be allowed at their indie shows, but maybe it’s just because I’ve always been either down the front or somewhere near the front, where there is always a crush of bodies. Even though the critical mass seemed to part slightly after Surfer Blood finished, the WAS fans were quick to fill in the gaps.
‘Dumb Luck’, from their current ‘TV en Français’, started their set confidently, with its near ‘Maneater’ ’80s groove. It was the perfect opener, proving right out of the gate why they’re rated so highly as a live act. As did J.P. Pitts before him, Keith Murray jumped down into the crowd to serenade us with ‘Textbook’, from the band’s first album ‘With Love and Squalor’. I was gobsmacked, I assumed I was never going to hear that song live ever again. Same goes for the brilliantly bass-heavy ‘Chick Lit’, from their 2008 album ‘Brain Thrust Mastery’.
Of course, being the irrepressible jokers they are, Keith Murray and Chris Cain were only too happy to banter away between the songs, amusing and charming the heck out of the punters as they always do. Slow groove ‘Can’t Lose’ was prefaced by the guys asking who in the audience liked to grind, saying any song with a 0% grind factor was considered a failure, and this one from them was between 0% and 2%. (Cue audience laughter.) To introduce ‘Impatience’, Keith explained he had once been a candy striper in hospital (probably false) and stopped volunteering because aged people had the unfortunate habit of telling stories and then slowly expiring, mid-anecdote:
If there was anything to criticise about the gig, it was the nature of this tour and having two headliners. I am sure Surfer Blood’s set was shorter than it is usually runs, and I know We Are Scientists’ set was shorter too, as in April their show at the Black Cat was much longer. Still, it was a great Friday night out and definitely showed tickets to all three bands are worth your hard-earned money next time they’re in your town.
After the cut: We Are Scientists’ set list.
Continue reading Live Review: We Are Scientists and Surfer Blood with Eternal Summers at U Street Music Hall, Washington DC – 3rd October 2014
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 6th October 2014 at 2:00 pm
In less than a month of its release, ‘The Balcony’, Catfish and the Bottlemen‘s debut for Communion / Island Records, has done very well, cracking the top ten of the UK albums chart, and their November and December 2014 UK tour has long since sold out, with their newly announced March and April 2015 tour, which just went on sale last week, soon to follow suit. Yet over here in America, they are nowhere near a household name. It is no mean feat for any band to get punters to their show if their first album isn’t even available in their country yet, and it’s that reasoning that makes the turnout for the Welsh band’s first true headline show in Washington all the more remarkable. Even frontman Van McCann seemed overwhelmed by the clearly passionate fans down the front at their DC9 show last Thursday night:
But before describing Catfish’s set further, I’ll touch on the support band’s performance briefly. Because of the presence of a strong horn section (tenor sax and trombone, to be exact), local band Phantomweight (knock it off with the bad ghost jokes) probably gets their (un)fair share of comparisons to the last American band with a horn section to have made it mainstream, Boston ska band The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. While the horn section is prominent, the band seem to have their toes dipped into the pop, funk and jazz pools, which makes them a more interesting proposition than the usual DC acts that precede more famous out of town groups. Their singer Ben also seems like a pretty funny guy, making fun of the headliner (hey, when take your opportunities when you can, right?):
Earlier in the day, Catfish and the Bottlemen played an intimate set sponsored by Washington rock DC101, following in the footsteps of other British acts Biffy Clyro and Royal Blood. If the recent trajectory of those bands is a good predictor, then Catfish are well on their way to joining them atop festival bills next year. I spoke to McCann about this after the show, and he seemed far too humble to accept that stardom in the near future would be a given. But given what I witnessed at DC9, I don’t see how there could be any other possible outcome. Fans were raucous and eager to show how big of fans they were of the band, with some girls in squealing mode and near tears once the show was over.
A lot of the audience already knew all the words to their songs, which made McCann quick to quip that they must have all gotten their copies of ‘The Balcony’ by unsavoury means; he said the album would not be released in America until 2015. The boy and girl in front of me were as quick to respond that they had ordered their copies online before their U.S. tour began, and they’re been at the preceding New York and Philadelphia shows and would be following them up to Boston the next night. I think most of you are aware of just how massive America is, so having fans this devoted, willing to drive up and down the coast with little care about their jobs, and so early in the game is an incredibly good indicator of the mass hysteria I expect to surround this band swiftly. McCann also noted that earlier in the week in New York, they ran into Ewan McGregor, who probably is at this point in their career their most famous fan; a sticker of McGregor’s face is now proudly affixed to their bass drum.
As indicated in his review of their debut album, Martin points out that ‘The Balcony’ is punctuated with songs with “the power to do is put a big, fat grin on one’s face for half an hour or so, particularly if they’re played loud”. ‘Cocoon’, the band’s most recent single, is the sound of youth, of devil-may-care innocent minds, while ‘Kathleen’ apparently has already captured the imagination of youths. ‘Homesick’ slowed down the proceedings slightly and provided the most tenderest moment of the night, but overall, it’s evident that the Catfish and the Bottlemen sound is one that is loud, brash and most importantly, fun. This train to success has just begun a-rolling. Don’t blink. You’ll want to catch it and be on it before it’s too late.
After the cut: Catfish and the Bottlemen’s set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Catfish and the Bottlemen with Phantomweight at DC9, Washington DC – 2nd October 2014
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 3rd October 2014 at 4:00 pm
It’s Friday, so I thought, why not post something fun and dancey to get you in the mood for the weekend? Oxford’s Glass Animals have released another live video from their exemplary performance at London Meltdown Festival back in June. In August, we posted the film of ‘Black Mambo’ from the night filmed by cinematographer Georgio Testi. This time, it’s of their upcoming single ‘Hazey’, which will be released on the 13th of October, smack dab in the middle of their next UK tour.
Glass Animals are currently in America, finishing up a tour with sold out shows in San Francisco tonight, followed by back to back sold out gigs in Los Angeles over the weekend. Their next UK tour begins next Friday, the 10th of October, at Liverpool Magnet; tickets to the tour are on sale now except for London Oval, which has sold out. The band also announced this week a new UK tour for March 2015, with tickets on sale now. The new tour includes their largest show to date at London Shepherds Bush Empire on Tuesday the 10th of March; the band promises they have “some cool plans for that one.” Quite tempting…
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